Carol Ann Duffy is to be British Poet Laureate, the first woman in the position’s 341 year’s history. A good choice. I thought we had her volume The Wife Speaks but it is not on the shelf. Probably lent and not returned. We’ve both been prodigal with our books. I’m meticulous about returning borrowed books and assume others are the same. Anyway I’m re-reading and enjoying Feminine Gospels, various visions and revisions of female identity.
I am also reading Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, a history of Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to Septermber 10, 2001. Recent history with its roots in the past and many implications for the future. I find the Time-type style rather irritating. Example: ‘Yuri Andropov was a rising force within the grey cabal the circled the Kremlin’s listless don, the hound-faced Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union.’ But the analysis transcends that: ‘Not less than America’s modernising capitalists, Russia’s retrenching communists under-estimated the Iranian revolution.’
Tom Davies from whom I borrowed the book also lent us a DVD with four Alec Guiness Ealing comedies. I enjoyed Kind Hearts and Coronets last night – British black humour comedy at its best. Guiness stars in eight cameos as the different family victims of a plan to inherit a wealthy estate. The film ends with a dramatic twist.
The weekend’s Rotorua marathon also ended dramatically. The front runner stumbled a few feet from the tape – his legs he says just turned to jelly. At least he got up and finished second. I was in Edinburgh for the 1970 Commonwealth Games when NZ runner Sylvia Potts fell when leading inches from the tape – a cruel blow. When the Games finished and the Queen and Prince Phillip left by circling the stadium in an open coach with the crowd singing ‘will you nae come back again’ there were few dry eyes in the crowd. Mine included. I’ve always been a sucker for sentiment.
We’ve had an email from Chris Livesey a Kiwi working in Canberra. He says Australian birds screech and squawk rather than sing. I remember crying in a movie theatre in that strange governmental city. I’d been to the poet’s lunch at the university, indeed had the honour of reading Les Murray’s poem for the occasion. It had been great to meet many people who had until then had only been names in books. A considerable amount of wine was consumed. At its end I was dropped off at a mall where the newly released Crocodile Dundee was running – appropriate to see it in an Aussie setting. At its conclusion when the two lovers are re-united in the New York underground in front of a cheering crowd I found myself weeping buckets. Wine helps remove emotion’s inhibitions.
Yesterday’s blog reminds me I’d used kauri as a metaphor for David Lange in a lengthy poem I’d written about my Beehive experience published in the volume Pingandy. (For some reason my blog will not accept my spacing of lines in poetry, everything shifts to the left margin).
‘A kauri is an awesome thing
seeing one is like entering an old pit-sawn church
sheer volume of hand-smoothed timber
the old organ manhandled from the motherland
and admiration at such purpose that could
plot sunlight through stained glass to
make the heart lurch so.
Nothing in this elusive
world is ever total
the wind blows round an empty pulpit
the kauri’s mortal too.’
Later lines query the metaphor:
‘Tonight at a party
The long tongues gun for the big man –
big kauri sounds a bit …
as a metaphor it doesn’t exactly fit trench warfare.’
But several lines on I say:
‘the kauri – yeah stubborn mule, stick to your metaphor.’
In time I found a more satisfying image. Interviewing me about book This Piece of Earth in Christchurch in late 2004 the reporter sprung a surprise question - what plant would David Lange most resemble. I said it would have to be something gigantic, a kauri or a redwood - no, not colourful enough, it would have to be a pohutakawa, a magnificent man-of-war one in flamboyant full-bloom beside the sea. The article began with this description. I sent a copy by email to him. Quick as a flash came back his response. "The possums have got to this pohutakawa."